Sustainability is very important to me; I learned a lot about living a sustainable lifestyle during the years I spent living in an environmentalist co-op. Most of the people who lived there came from white middle class backgrounds and had no problem jumping in a dumpster to forage for goodies that were headed for a landfill. But it’s a lot different if you grew up poor, with the social stigma of poverty. Whether or not they realize it it seems most people believe people are poor because they’re lazy or because they deserve to be poor. As a child I didn’t realize I was poor because all the other people around me were poor as well. It wasn’t until I got to middle school and met kids from other parts of town who were middle class and white that my class shame began to kick in. I began to feel ashamed of being poor. Television would only reinforce these consumerist culture ideals and I yearned to be “normal” or white and middle class that is. I desperately wished that I lived in one of the track homes on the east side of town instead of the shabby apartment where I shared a bedroom with my sister in a shitty neighborhood. I resented my mother for not being more “successful” and financially stable. Although when I think of her now, as a disabled single mother working overtime as a night nurse through periods of intense depression and struggling with bouts of psychosis it sounds admirable & nearly incomprehensible (how did she do it?) to me these days. I often wonder now if it is even possible to be poor and also considered “successful” by our culture? I don’t think so. Fortunately I try my best to surround myself with people who do not think this way.
When my mother, who began picking cotton at five as a migrant farm worker, came to visit me at the environmentalist cooperative housing she was appalled by what she considered to be “trashy” living conditions. To be fair most of our furniture had once been trash. She felt sorry for me because “I had to” dry my clothes out on a laundry line instead of in an electric dryer and because we didn’t have paper napkins but oily fabric cloth napkins.
Even today my mother balks when I choose to do errands on foot “You’re not poor, you have a car… You should use it” she tells me. At home I reuse everything (much to the horror of my mother): yogurt containers, plastic bags, zip lock baggies, tin foil, boxes, wrapping paper, ribbons, envelopes and even straws. I don’t use paper napkins, paper towels or paper plates at home and almost all my clothes (with the exception of fetish ware which are typically gifts) are vintage or gently used. Despite my mothers clucking tongue I feel it is my moral obligation to the planet and the rest of humankind to live as sustainably as possible.
If it sounds like I am bragging in an attempt to maintain my hippie street cred, I might be, its sometimes necessary to reassure myself that the way I am living is not shameful but admirable.
Even though I am no longer poor, living in a culture where you’re constantly being told to throw things away and buy new things it’s a lot easier to feel normal when you’re living in a big hippie commune with people that share your values then when you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who are often living beyond their means to maintain the illusion of opulence and excess that adult industry workers must maintain for their peers and clientele.
A few years ago when it was time to buy a new car I began saving up for a Hybrid but the most research I did the more appealing the idea of having a vehicle that didn’t use ANY gasoline beacme to me. I certainly wasn’t new to the idea there were quite a few electric vehicles (including a ridiculous mint green station wagon with a huge solar panel mounted to the roof) being used at the old co-op I lived on. I pursued the idea and after much time and research I purchased an early 80’s Mercedes Benz. These cars are the easiest to covert and though there is also a great sense of pride that comes with living my values I often feel embarrassed by the beastly automobile that is just a year my junior. I got the car a few years ago and had it converted to run on vegetable oil. I go to local vegetarian restaurants, pick up their vats of used cooking oil, filter it at home (to be honest I have boys to do the icky jobs for me most of the time) and pour it directly into my tank. I’ve got stickers on the car that indicate that it’s a “veggie car” and while part of the reason is that I want to let others know that there is an alternative to dependence on petroleum it’s also cause I’m often embarrassed by the old ass ride my mother refers to as “the french fry mobile”. Fortunately most of the people that I am friends have similar values and think my old ass ride and my commitment to sustainability are pretty cool.
The concept of sustainability (which revolves around reduction of materials used, reusing materials that are already produced and of course recycling) itself seems to me to be incongruous with the luxurious lifestyle that is ordinarily associated with and arguably expected of professional dominants. Although it can be argued that green is chic these days I find that it’s really only chic when you spend big money to “be green”.
After all what’s chic about reusing plastic baggies or packing your lunch in a re-purposed glass jar?
I’m often reminded about the conflict between living a sustainable lifestyle, struggling with class shame and presenting a professional image that is congruent with what is expected of a professional domina. What got me thinking about it today was the fact that it’s summer time and college kids all over the country are moving out of their dorms and abandoning loads of things most people I know wouldn’t dream of throwing away: clothes, televisions, sound systems, couches, mini refrigerators… ( it’s okay you can laugh at mini refrigerators) Lots of my crunchy friends are jumping for joy at the opportunity to score loads of good stuff that these kids are just abandoning. To be honest I will be sending a sweet and obedient boy out with a wish list of goodies I’d like him to drag back home for me. Why aren’t I going myself?
Because as much as I deplore consumerist culture and enjoy a treasure hunt for awesome stuff , digging around in things that have been discarded by others always brings up lots of intense class shame in me. I’m fairly certain that it’s much less emotionally complicated to be a dumpster diver if you’ve never actually been poor or you’re “newly poor” or poverty is some kind of anarchist lifestyle choice. I’m sorry but being poor because you’re in grad school doesn’t really count as it doesn’t really carry any social stigma and student poverty & post graduate poverty are often romanticized.
I know I “shouldn’t” be ashamed for standing up to dominant culture and asserting my values but I’m curious to hear how others have overcome feelings of class shame after being triggered by activities like “dumpster diving”. I’m also interested to hear from folks who have learned to maintain a sustainable lifestyle within a sex industry culture that demands that we maintain an image of wealth and opulence. I can appreciate the role of the fantasy of wealth and oppulance but what do real people do to keep from losing themselves in a cultural that praises consumerism? I suppose it isn’t exclusivly a sex worker conundrum and I’d really like responses from folks as I’m still thinking about these things and these thoughts aren’t totally developed.